Mikumi National Park is the 3rd largest in Tanzania and the closest to Dar es Salaam. Not as famous as the big name parks like the Serengeti and Ngorongoro but it has everything and doesn't seem to be very busy at all.
At 3,230 km² it is half the size of county Galway. On safari in Mikumi you must stay in your vehicle and you are only permitted to drive on the paved roads. You can bring your own car but it would be a waste without a guide. The paved roads only reach a fraction of the park yet we encountered every animal that day except for the buffalo.
Everyone who goes on safari wants to see "The Big Five". The term "The Big Five" was used originally by hunters signifying the five most difficult animals to hunt:
- The African Elephant
- The Cape Buffalo
- The African Leopard
- The African Lion
- The African Rhino
If you do plan on organising your own safari I recommend picking up a sim card at the airport. There are kiosks for each phone company. I used Halotel and found their 3G to be excellent and very fast. Whatsapp is the preferred mode of communication with most taxis, accommodation and tour companies. Emails are often left unanswered as most companies rely on their phones for internet.
There are many safari packages that will pick you up from your flight or hotel in Dar es Salaam and deliver you back afterwards, these work out to be quite expensive.
I was lucky to find a new safari camp: Asante Afrika Camp. They have a link on booking.com also but deal with them directly for better value. You can bring your own tent, use their tents or avail of the lovely cabins. After an unanswered email I contacted them on Whatsapp: +255789838883 and arranged two nights accommodation in the private cabin, all meals and a full day safari. For two people this came to under $300 each. Amazing value compared to other companies I had researched.
As we were miles from Mikumi town in the heart of the bush, there was no alternative restaurant. There was no need to worry, the food was excellent. Plenty of everything, very tasty and we were also asked before arrival if we were vegetarian or had any food preferences. After dinner each night we sat at the campfire and chatted to the night watchmen, some of whom are local Masai. Then when you wanted to go to bed to your cabin or tent a watchman would walk with you incase of any wandering animals. (A buffalo wandered into the camp at 5am the first night and they also had a lion quite recently!)
The safari began at 7am and we didn't return until after 4pm. We were lucky to have the vehicle to ourselves as the camp was quiet on that day. We had a full packed lunch with us from the camp. The only hold up is in the entrance to the park, very similar to the Tanzanian visa on entry to Dar es Salaam - slow, painfully slow. Fortunately Mikumi is not a very busy park and the hold up should not be more than 30 minutes. George our guide and driver was excellent. Very knowledgeable and ensured we had an enjoyable day.
I was really pleased with the whole experience at Asante Afrika Camp. I had been a bit apprehensive, wondering if it was too good to be true, especially as all my communication with them was on Whatsapp but it exceeded my expectations. The camp itself is so comfortable, great facilities, hot water, good toilets, all the creature comforts (wifi) available. Ernest the manager/host was very diligent and even stayed with us at the bus station in Mikumi for an hour until we got our bus to Dar es Salaam.
Getting There and Away
The alternative to taking the public bus is to hire your own driver which seems to be $300 return to Dar Es Salaam. If you have 4 people to share the costs, I would definitely recommend it.
There are many buses passing Mikumi from Dar es Salaam. Mikumi is very conveniently situated on the Morogoro road which links Dar es Salaam port to Zambia and other west African countries.
From Dar es Salaam you take any bus to Iringa. There are luxury and semi luxury buses. The luxury bus has air con and toilet. With the bus you cannot have a time limit, the journey will take the length it needs to take! We traveled with Sutco buses at 8am from Dar es Salaam and arrived at approximately 2pm. The distance was 195km. We had one stop of 15 minutes. The roads are terrible, the driving is even worse! We were collected from the bus by a bajaji (same as an Asian tuk tuk) sent by Asante Afrika camp.
The return journey turned into a bit of an adventure. Ernest was arranging a luxury bus for our return to Dar es Salaam but when the bus arrived in Mikumi it had only one seat. He waited with us at the bus station for over an hour until we got a local bus to Morogoro, then the bus conductor brought us to a semi-luxury bus direct to Dar es Salaam. That journey of two buses (and 8 hours in total) cost us $7 each. The journey to Mikumi on the luxury bus from Dar es Salaam cost us $10 each.
Eventhough we were the only Mzungu's in the bus station, on the local bus and in the Dar es Salaam bus station Ubungo, we found everyone to be very kind and helpful to us.
Ubungo bus station in Dar es Salaam is the main bus station and is a bit of a shock. A lot of people work freelance at the station selling tickets and making commission on the sales. Ask your taxi driver to drive you fully into the ticket office area and ask your taxi driver to help you buy the tickets. We were lucky to have a great driver from the airport who gave us his card and told us to Whatsapp him for any further journeys. He looked after us at the bus station and made sure we got the correct ticket for the bus. If you do get overwhelmed with a tout, you won't have to pay more than a few hundred Tzs (50c). Ubungo isn't too daunting when you are ready for it.
We found that while we were pestered a bit, once you told them you already had a ticket or didn't need their service, you were left alone. Even the taxi driver who sprinted at least 100m across Ubungo bus station when he saw the two Mzungus on the bus from Morogoro!